Tuesday, October 4, 2011

"Typical" Week at School

Last Monday began the second week of the third term.  This is the last term of the school year and the shortest, only 12 weeks.  There is a lot to be crammed into the term, including the National Year 8 exam, exams for Years 4 and 6, Teachers’ Day and English Day.  Here’s how my “typical” week has gone so far:

Monday the school bell rang at 7:45.  I’d been told school was starting at 8:30, so was a bit surprised.  7:45 is when we used to start.  We began with assembly in the Year 2 room.  It was hot and crowded with well over 200 kids and several teachers.  One teacher led the hymns, bible reading and gave a brief religious lesson.  About 20 minutes in, the principal arrived.  There was no room at the back for him, so the children were told to stand and move closer together toward the front.  They were literally pressed tightly together, leaving about 5 feet of empty space at the rear of the room.  This explains a lot about why adults on the bus are so comfortable in pressing up against each other and me.

I started teaching at 8:30 with Year 7.  That lasted until 9:30.  I had a break to work on typing a Social Science exam that will be given next week for all Year 8 students, then at 10:30 began teaching Year 1.  That lesson was to go until interval at 11:10.

At 10: 45, the bell rang and all the other kids headed toward the playground.  The tykes in Year 1 and I were just getting rolling.  They would have been happy to stay and miss recess, but their mothers were here and they needed a snack, so I let them go.

After interval I spent an hour with Year 8, and then started an hour long lesson with Year 6.  We used to end school at 1:30, but since we’re starting later, now are supposed to end at 2:00.  I was surprised, then, when the bell rang at 1:35.  I checked with the principal and yes, we were done for the day.  The new schedule would start Tuesday.  Why Tuesday instead of Monday?  I have no idea.

Tuesday started with the bell at 8:10.  The kids headed toward their classrooms where they lead themselves in hymns and prayer.  At 8:30 I collected the Year 7 children and we spent an hour together.  Because there’s a teacher’s meeting for Years 1, 2 and 3, the children for those years have a few days off.  Instead of having Year 2, I had free time.  Rather than using it to plan or work on typing the Social Science test, in true Samoan fashion, I used the time for cooking.

I headed home, stopping at my family’s store to pick up 7 pounds of chicken, a large bottle of soy sauce, a couple of onions and a package of pasta.  I was cooking for six.  I whipped up chicken legs/thighs cooked Samoan style, with soy sauce, a bit of sugar and onions.  I made the pasta with some beef bouillon and adobo seasoning.  A bit of Cuba in Samoa.  The teachers sent boys to help me carry the pots of food back to the school.  The teachers declared the food a success.  There was not a scrap left.

After interval I was ready for a nap, but instead spent the time teaching Years 8 and 6.  The last bell rang at 1:50.  Almost the new ending time of 2:00.   Year 6 is big and has some boys who are “energetic”.  Another way to say that is I spend as much time telling them to sit/be quiet as I do teaching.  Their regular teacher keeps them in line with corporal punishment.  I haven’t hit a child in Samoa yet and am determined to solve the discipline issue without hitting.  This is the only class that has to constantly be reminded to show respect.

Some of the class stayed with me until 2:30, as punishment.  They also had to come in early on Wednesday to clean my room.  The well-behaved kids were sad that they didn’t get to come in to clean the room.  Perhaps not the best punishment, if it’s viewed as a privilege.

Wednesday morning started with the first bell at 8:10.  While I waited for the kids to get in their rooms and do prayer I noticed several loaves of bread.  I asked the other teachers what was up and they said the doctors were coming today to check the children.  They would be arriving at 8:30 a.m.  It is standard practice that when someone comes to the school, they are welcomed with food and given cash as a thank you for coming by to do their job.  That’s fa’a Samoa fa’alavelave.  The teachers pay the cash. 

Before school I checked out the library.  Some of the teachers had supervised the cleaning of the room and reorganizing of books.  I quickly realized they had taken almost all of the English books and put them in storage.  Instead, they had neatly arranged some reference books and Samoan books.  The problem is that the Samoan books are not allowed to be touched by the students (they are full sets that teachers use in the classroom) and the reference books look lovely but are useless.  Really, how often does a Year 4 student in rural Samoa need to refer to Grey’s Anatomy?

I was frustrated and asked one of the teachers why they’d put away the English books.  “Because it looks prettier this way.”  “But the children can’t get to the books to read them.”  “Yes, they can, if they climb up the shelves and get them out of the boxes.”  Not my idea of a library, and since I arranged for more books to be sent from America for the library I was concerned.  Seems I’ll need to have a chat with my bosses to see if we can figure out a way to make the library look nice and still let the kids have access to the books.

At 10:10, I’d just finished teaching Year 7 and was working on typing the Social Science test.  A troop of nurses arrived.  I could tell by their uniforms.  For some reason they came directly to me.  I took them to the office, which they said was too small.  So I took them back to my classroom and ran to get the principal.  He brought in some Year 8 students to “tidy” my room.  Since I’d just had it cleaned that morning, it didn’t need much tidying.  What they did was to put tablecloths over the desks in the room.  Tablecloths are very important whenever there are guests present.  I always forget that.

While the kids put out the tablecloths, with the help of the Year 4 teacher since I’m clearly worthless in preparing for company, the principal thanked the nurses for coming and took them downstairs for tea.  The tea was tinned mackerel sandwiches, koko esi (soup made with papaya, koko Samoa and coconut cream), boiled eggs and very sweet, very milky coffee. 

The nurses measured height and weight and checked for lice.  They checked the kids’ hands, feet and skin on their chests and legs.  They also checked to see if the kids were wearing underpants.  Children without underwear (about 1/3) were smacked.   The process took approximately 2 minute per child.

After interval, when I got to dine on the leftovers from the nurses, I taught Year 8 in their room, since the nurses were still in my room.  After about 45 minutes, I saw that the van for the nurses was gone and asked Year 8 to move to my classroom so we could spread out and do some grammar games.  I followed them and realized they all stopped outside my room. 

While I was teaching Year 8, the Year 8 teacher, who’s also the principal, was meeting with Years 4 & 6 in my room.  For over an hour.  They were discussing which parents would bring what food for Friday.  The National exams for Years 4 & 6 will be given on Friday so proctors from other schools will be here.  That means food.  And when visitors get food, we get food. 

School broke at 1:30 instead of 2.  The principal explained we were breaking early because the children had seen the doctor that day.  Whatever.  I went home to finish typing the Social Science test without interruption. 

Thursday started with classes at 8:30 and went pretty much by the book.  Except that I was asked to copy Year 8 exam I’d typed for all the students in the district.  It was long and to save paper I needed to copy it back to back.  It took me three hours after school.

On Friday we were set to have the Years’ 4 and 6 exams.  A very nice woman from the Ministry was here.  She proctored both classes, about 70 children, in one room. 

Early in the morning, while I was teaching Year 7, I was brought breakfast.  The food was brought by the parents in honor of having the one woman here from the Ministry.  I was brought 3 sandwiches (2 egg salad, 1 spaghetti), crackers and butter, papaya soup, coconut soup and koko Samoa.  I ate ½ an egg salad sandwich, drank the Koko Samoa and gave the rest of the food to the kids.

At interval I was told I should go and visit with the lady from the Ministry.  It was an hour and a half after breakfast, so now we were having tea.  It was formal, just us important folks – the principal, the School Resource Officer, the woman from the Ministry and moi.  Two girls fanned the food to keep the flies off and a teacher sat in the back of the room, ready to fetch anything we needed.

I was chastised because I’d worn a skirt and shirt instead of a puletasi that day.  We wear uniform puletasis every day except Friday, when we can wear what we want.  Usually, it’s skirts/blouses, which are cooler than puletasis.  I didn’t know I was supposed to dress for the occasion.  Heck, I didn’t know it was an occasion.

In addition to my poor clothing, I was still full from breakfast, plus had a bit of an upset stomach.  I figured having whatever I ate reappear on the table soon after I ate it would be worse than not eating, so I just sat and tried to be charming.  Samoans don’t talk while they eat, so that meant just smiling.  Trying not to look at or smell the food, which included fried fish, two plates of taro, fried chicken, a ramen “salad” which had ramen noodles, chicken and some kind of oil dressing, boiled green bananas, potato salad, octopus in coconut cream and more egg salad sandwiches.   We had niu (green coconuts) to drink.

The way formal meals work is that all the food is put on the table.  The first diners (oldest, most respected first) eat what they want, then food is packaged for them to take home.  Everyone else, in this case teachers and some students, eat the rest.
The nice lady from the ministry left with two large baskets of food. 

After the feast, I was preparing for Friday song time and the close of the week.  I was feeling a bit down that no one had thanked me for staying 3 hours to copy the exam.  So I wasn’t exactly excited that just before I left for the day I was given two more exams and told to copy them by Monday.  I estimated it would take six hours.  It only took five hours on Saturday.

What keeps it interesting is that there’s no such thing as a typical week at school.

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